Robot Roller-Derby Disco Dodgeball is a fast and lively arcade playground, marinated in neon shades and seared by the hottest techno tunes. The lights pulsate as the bass bumps, the colors shift as the action swells, and, somehow, your movement seems to synchronize with the chaos painting the map. This competitive PC arena experience is teeming with character, but with its overly loose controls and absence of meaningful progression, the game pushes its style over its substance. Like disco itself, the enjoyment provided by Disco Dodgeball’s vibrant walls is fleeting, fading like a fad forgotten not long after its initial boom.
It fails to make a lasting impression, but that doesn’t stop the action from being gripping and entertaining early on. Robots roll on a single wheel up and down the various maps–resembling dance floors with their vivacious lights–while explosive dodge balls whizz by your head. Power-ups transform your projectiles into boomerangs and provide jetpacks mid-round, so it’s critical to keep your eyes on both the position of your opposition and these enhancements. Blasting opponents out of the air or pelting an unsuspecting robot with a ricocheted ball is supremely satisfying, but learning how and when to take a shot isn’t easy.You’re riding on a wheel against a surface providing little friction, so everyone on the dance floor continues to roll long after letting off the gas. Balls arc downward after being thrown and bounce off walls in often unexpected ways, so it takes a great deal of practice to understand how, when, and where to take a shot with so many variables at play.
Multiplayer games are player-hosted, so a high ping can result in robots flying from one end of the screen to the other as if hurled from a catapult; as a result, the already fast movement speed–which is only enhanced by a rechargeable boost–can be a little too sporadic to account for. There’s nothing wrong with combat that takes time to master, but even after hours of play, I never felt fully comfortable with the direction of my explosive shots.
Thankfully, there’s more to Disco Dodgeball than just throwing and catching balls. Beyond the classic Elimination and Deathmatch options, modes like Hoops and Grand Prix offer unique, interesting ways of playing with the mechanics. Hoops forces you to focus on fitting a specific ball through a square goal in order to score points for your team, while Grand Prix transforms the map into a speedway of sorts. Instead of using your momentum to dodge oncoming action, you must barrel through checkpoints as you race against the competition. Catching and throwing balls always remains a significant piece of the puzzle, but these various mechanical alterations allow for much greater in-game creativity that what the standard rules supply. Most servers lean toward the classic modes, but mixing up the rules within a room full of competent bots is always an option.
Once the early wonder starts to wear off, though, what’s left is a fun curiosity with hooks too dull to pierce the skin. There’s single-player content, including Arcade, Horde, Training, and a handful of other solo affairs, but the real appeal here is the competitive play. Leaderboards and the ability to level up provide some incentive to come back, but other than basic robot customization, the actual tangible rewards for continuing to play the game are weak. Without a true sense of progression, Disco Dodgeball doesn’t do much to pull you back onto its thumping dance floors.
When the connection is strong, the balls are bouncing as you intend, and there are enough players to populate the servers, Robot Roller-Derby Disco Dodgeball is a treat. The audiovisual package superbly complements the wall-to-wall mayhem found within a competitive round, and there’s a healthy suite of modes to mix up the action. There’s just not enough staying power, and controls that are a few notches too loose make it difficult to determine a shot’s trajectory. Disco Dodgeball is a creative player in a crowded space, but lacks too many attributes to stand out.